Homily for Epiphany 6 Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
I realize this is probably a dangerous way to begin a homily, but I want to invite you to take a moment and bring into your mind the most memorable sermon or inspiring speech you have ever heard. Perhaps it was the heartfelt charisma of Bishop Michael Curry, or the justice-on-fire of Dr. William Barber; maybe it was the theological wisdom of Richard Rohr, the saintly sarcasm of Nadia Bolz-Weber, the vulnerable inspiration of Brené Brown or the celtic spirituality of John Philip Newell. Or perhaps it was not a famous preacher at all, but a beloved pastor or teacher who seemed to be speaking words directly to your soul.
Go ahead: hold that moment in your mind. Right there, in that inspired moment: Where is God for you?
….OK, When you’re ready, you can open your eyes and come join with this preacher in this pulpit again now…
No matter whose lips spoke the words that inspired your spirit, I hope that the answer to that last question brought an undeniable recognition of God’s presence in that encounter, in that palpable and memorable moment in time.
Today’s Scripture lessons place us in the middle of three inspiring dialogues between people and their spiritual leaders. First we hear a portion of the speech given by Moses to the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land. Moses’ dialogue famously includes the imperative, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…”
In the Epistle lesson, we hear Paul’s exhortation to the churches in Corinth to come together across their growing divisions. Paul, with love, is also pointedly calling his people out for fracturing off into comfortable enclaves identified with their human leaders. He yearns to speak with them of spiritual things, but instead finds himself having to speak to the human divisions that are getting in the way of spiritual growth.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus pushes those listening to the Sermon on the Mount into tougher terrain than they have been before, moving them from the comfortable structure of thinking about themselves as law abiding followers to the unsettling lesson that there’s no place for an “us vs. them” mentality in the realm of God. We all share the lustful thoughts, anger, and failure to communicate our genuine intentions which are enough to keep up from experiencing the transformative love God has for all of God’s people.
Our lessons today are all examples of tough love, spoken by Godly leaders. And I’m pretty sure they were memorable for all who heard them.
You see, lessons like these are gifts of growth. They aren’t glossed over with beautiful illustrations and empty platitudes. The wise words of the spirit passing from each leader to the people in their care are challenging, disquieting, and yet spoken with a depth of truth and love sourced in God. Today’s scriptures tell us about how God is present in the lessons that need to be conveyed to people in every age and context, in order to invite our participation in the work God calls for us to do. Sometimes that requires some strong words, tough love and deep faith.
Take, for example, the wilderness-wandering Hebrew people who showed great faith and perseverance but who also had not always been dutiful and grateful followers. And Moses had not always been the willing leader and spokesperson for God, either. In fact, if we go back to the 4th Chapter of Exodus, we hear Moses campaigning and trying to convince God to find someone else for the position of inspirational leader: “Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”
This frightened, trying-to-escape-the-call human being is not the Moses we tend to remember but surely he is someone with whom we can relate. We also tend to set aside what comes after this inspired speech, where Moses is indeed shown the promised land which will be given to his descendants, but into which he himself will never go.
And in our Epistle, we hear a very confident St. Paul the leader and inspirer of many churches, who was also once the barely-recovering his sight Saul-transformed-to-Paul who must let go of and then remake all that he once believed, having now seen the glory of God and experienced the blinding power of the Spirit.
And yet, each of these spiritual leaders speaks the truth needed at that precise moment of time within the context in which the people God has entrusted to their care reside. The Israelites on the cusp of arriving at the promised land when the darkest hour seems to be upon them are reminded of God’s life-giving presence throughout their journey, their exodus, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night who has led them, and still leads them. Choosing not to give in to human fear and to reject the allure of false gods and idols gave God’s chosen people the opportunity to remain in the presence of God: choosing God was choosing life; choosing life was choosing God.
The people of the churches of Corinth were about to splinter apart, focusing so much on the qualities and distinctions of their human leaders that they were losing sight of their common, spiritual worship. Paul calls out their humanity, and in doing so helps them see the desire God has for their spiritual growth.
Jesus, knowing the ways in which human beings can so quickly default to sorting the unworthy from the worthy, is able to go so deeply inside the law that it transforms the law and transforms us into seeing that without God, none of us are worthy. Yet with God, we are enough.
Indeed, each of these leaders learns that with God, they are enough. Moses, at the end of his ministry, has learned that God has put the words in his mouth and had already set in motion all that was needed for him to do the work he was called to do. Paul speaks to the churches in Corinth of what he has come to know, that God works through us as one body. God gives the growth for all that we are meant to be as beloved community: “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Jesus reminds the crowd gathered for the sermon on the mount…and in doing so, reminds us…that God does not ask us for our perfection, but for our consent: let our yes be a yes to the work that God has called us to do.
And this is our Good News: With God, we are enough.
Taken together today, these passages from our Holy Scriptures remind us that at whatever places and points we are at in our ministries, God gives us all that we need. We are enough: in our newness and vulnerability, in the intense and frustrating depths of ministry when we are at risk of cynicism and division, in the parting words of wisdom that allow us to hand our work to those who will come after. In all these, God is with us and the Holy Spirit of God is equipping us to do and to be all that is needed for God’s work in the world. And God is still working, speaking and moving today with essential lessons for our time and context, too.
So, go back with me, if you will, to that memory of inspired preaching. See God in that place, with that person, filling them with the inspiration to speak the words and the wisdom that you, the listener, needed to hear. If you can, take a moment to recall and take in that lesson again, the lesson that God had…and still has…for you.
And now, see God in that very same place, equipping you. Giving you the words, the inspiration, the awareness of the call God has placed on you and the divine presence that is with you to make that same palpable presence of God known to the world in which you live.
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Open yourself to God. When someone is in need of a glimpse of the divine in a broken world, you will be that beacon. When there are words that need to be spoken, God will provide. God is in the midst of us, reminding us that we are enough, asking us to be who we are, inviting us to say an honest and authentic “yes” to what we are called to do, working through each of us so that we are, all of us, the many parts of the Body of Christ working to make God’s transforming love known to this world in which we live.